Observations of Balmain, Rozelle, Lilyfield, and Leichhardt

I took the bus out to Balmain for a walk on Easter Monday. The transit trip is especially circuitous (map) from my current abode in the Alexandria neighborhood, despite the as-the-crow-flies distance being not too far (7 km), as it seems most buses and trains converge in the Sydney CBD. In my case the recommended route at the time was the 343 Bus to the 442, which was about an hour (the map said 45 minutes, but that assumed I knew what I was doing with the transfer) after counting access, transfer, and egress time.  Walking is only 90 minutes, driving 16 minutes. It is clear that one is not meant to travel from here to there by transit. This is to say nothing against the quality of Sydney buses, which are nicer rides than I am used to in the US, just their inscrutable routing. Where is Jarrett Walker when you need him?

Balmain Post Office
Balmain Post Office

Balmain, a neighborhood of about 10,000 people, occupies a peninsula geographically quite close, but by land, somewhat far, from the Sydney CBD. There is a short ferry to the city, which I have not taken yet. Given its geographic remoteness, it appears to have evolved somewhat more independently from the rest of Sydney than other suburbs, and has a stronger identity. The peninsula is itself a steep hill, and Darling Street is basically a ridge road that forms the local Main Street. At the apex (map) is the post office, Town Hall, church, fire station, and school complex that is at a major crossroad (whose cross-street changes names multiple times). Along the street are hundreds of shops and restaurants, which I am sure now appeal more to higher income sensibilities than they did 100 years ago when the area was more oriented toward an industrial workforce. If I worked from home it would be nearly perfect.

Following Darling Street  southward, we run into Rozelle (map). This is hard to differentiate from Balmain at first glance, (and was originally called Balmain West until renamed by the postmaster (who differentiated  the neighborhood because the Balmain Post Office was at capacity)  in honor of the adjacent Bay) aside from it seeming to straddle Victoria Road (the A-40, which is a highly trafficked through road connecting Drummoyne and points north with the Anzac Bridge and the CBD), as the businesses along Darling Street are nearly continuous.

Wikipedia writes:

The name Rozelle and Rozelle Bay (often shown as “Rozella Bay” on old maps), originated from the parrots found in abundance at Rose Hill (near Parramatta) the first suburb of Sydney, established as a prime farming area for the new colony. The parrots, also in abundance in the inner west Bay area of Sydney, were commonly called “Rose Hill parrots” or “Rose-hillers” then Rosella.

Rozelle (pop. ~ 8000) is not as wealthy as Balmain, and the opposition to the WestConnex underground freeway project that will either help or hurt the community (depending on who you believe) is pretty strong here, as seen in the photos. The WestConnex project proposes to tunnel under the neighborhood (taking a few houses along the way, but many fewer than such a project would have demolished six decades ago when this sort of thing was still in fashion) to divert through traffic from Victoria Road to a new limited access tunnel in a Biggish Diggish sort of way. The construction costs to the community are fairly high. Whether the traffic benefits are realized depends on implementation. In any case, I would bet the impending WestConnex construction has suppressed property values and people’s willingness to invest capital in their own property.

After crossing the A-40, but before the A-4 (City West Link), we get an area that is not even coherently defined by the traffic arteries that bound it, but is in physical form largely indistinguishable, though perhaps more recent. Darling Street becomes Balmain Road. However it is less leafy and I suspect significantly less expensive than the neighborhoods to the north. I don’t think I found the heart of Lilyfield (map) (pop. ~7000) on this walk. It faces some of the same issues as Rozelle with the WestConnex project undermining the community (literally, as well as perhaps figuratively). The A-4 will also be complemented with a new WestConnex (M-4) tunnel to connect to the same Anzac Bridge, but from points west, hopefully diverting traffic, but in the meantime disrupting the suburb. Lilyfield is also home to the Sydney College of the Arts and associated hospital complex, whose future seems indeterminate. Lilyfield is served by a circuitous light rail line on a former goods line.

Balmain Road (which leads to Balmain, hence the name) falls a block west of Norton Street, which becomes the main street of Leichhardt (map) (pop. ~13000), just south of the A-4. Leichhardt, named for a lost Prussian explorer, is the “Little Italy” suburb of Sydney, with a concentration of Italian restaurants and shops. It is far less urban than the Little Italys I remember from Baltimore and New York. Leichhardt, like Balmain, and unlike Rozelle and Lilyfield, is a much more coherent neighborhood, with a town hall and well defined shopping area, which contains a nice bookstore, a small mall, a movie theater and miscellaneous other things that constitute a coherent place. It ends at Parramatta Road (which much east of here is Broadway), an east-west artery connecting Sydney with Parramatta (which is now a secondary CBD) and points west. The aim of WestConnex in many respects is to “relieve” this road of through traffic. Parramatta Road it is universally agreed has seen better days. Returning to Alexandria was also a bit circuitous, but only 30 minutes by transit if done optimally (which it wasn’t) (map)

The photo album can be found here.